Help Your Teenager: Music as Therapy

If there's one thing you can count on in the year 2022: it's change. During the "Information Age" / "Age of Technology" / "Digital Age" - especially with the advent of social media, it can feel difficult to know how to keep up, stay ahead of the curve, and thus know how to best serve our children and adolescents.

Life happens so quickly. Things change so quickly. And it's our job: as the adults, to know how to best navigate these times for the safety and wellness of teenagers - especially when it comes to their mental health.

I was lucky enough to be born before social media became a big thing. Personally, I had already been forced to navigate some pretty hefty trauma before I even heard of MSN messenger, MySpace or Bebo, so I didn't have the additional complications of online social status, online bullying, or the weird sensation of feeling lonely and alone despite having an exorbitant number of "friends" on Facebook or TikTok.

But times have changed. And the only way we're going to be able to continue to ensure the mental health and wellness of our young people is to change with it..

Which is how music therapy may help

Therapy as we once knew it has morphed into a number of different, creative and effective variations on aiding someone in their journey to health and wellness.

Traditional forms of therapy include:

  • Behavioral therapy: changing unwanted behaviors through rewards, reinforcements, and desensitization

  • Biomedical treatment: medication alone, or in combination with psychotherapy

  • Cognitive therapy: replacing troublesome, self-defeating, or even self-destructive thinking with a more balanced view that, in turn, leads to more fulfilling and productive behavior.

  • Cognitive/Behavioral therapy

  • Couples counselling and family therapy

  • Psychoanalysis: focusing on past conflicts as the underpinnings to current emotional and behavioral problems

  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: based on the principles of psychoanalysis, this approach recognizes the significant influence that emotions and unconscious motivation can have on human behavior.

And while each of those forms of therapy certainly has a time and place: the fact is that Millennials and Gen Z are built different, and therefore need something different in order to best serve their self esteem, self expression, mental health, and stress.

Creativity leads the way

According to the American Music Therapy Association, Music Therapy is "the clinical & evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program".

By utilizing creative artforms such as music and songwriting in conjunction with traditional approaches to therapy: research has found that music therapy interventions can address a variety of healthcare & educational goals:

  • Promote Wellness

  • Manage Stress

  • Alleviate Pain

  • Express Feelings

  • Enhance Memory

  • Improve Communication

  • Promote Physical Rehabilitation

  • and more

Let's break it down a little bit, and look at three specific benefits of music therapy:

Let's Talk About Wellness

I've talked about this in several blogs before, but the art of music and songwriting literally gives the songwriter the ability to transform negative and disempowering thoughts into moments of transformation, growth and healing. The nucleus accumbens and amygdala both get stimulated by music, and - because they're both involved in our emotional reactions - can help us to completely redesign our responses to events, thoughts and feelings.

The minute we are empowered to rewrite our cognitive responses to negative events: our mental health and even our physical wellness begins to improve.

Your young adults mental health and physical health begins to improve.

What About Stress Levels

Our stress levels are a huge contributing factor to our mental health, and physical health. Stress activates our levels of a hormone called cortisol, and while it's helpful in fight or flight situations, perpetually high levels of cortisol can result in:

  • Fatigue.

  • Irritability.

  • Headaches.

  • Intestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating or diarrhea.

  • Anxiety or depression.

  • Weight gain.

  • Increased blood pressure.

By leaning into songwriting and music therapy - or even simply listening to music - as methodologies for communicating ones stress can be hugely beneficial. This is not only because songwriting increases one's communication skills, but music elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain whilst simultaneously decreasing levels of cortisol.

.. And Enhancing Memory

One of the things I found most fascinating as a young adult was how instrumental music can be when it comes to our memory.

Not to mention this is an obvious reason as to why we sing the alphabet, the National Anthem, and the states of America in order to remember it: music stimulates both the left and right sides of the brain. When this happens: another part of the brain: the corpus callosum engages, and helps both sides of the brain to communicate more effectively with each other... which ultimately results in our brains ability to redevelop parts of itself that might not have been working as effectively as it once was.

Through using music, we often see videos of elderly folk suddenly remembering events and facts that they had previously forgotten. Through using music: we see Alzheimer's disease patients start to recall information. It was through music and songwriting that I have personally been able to recall information that I had struggled to retain during my most intense days in hospital - struggling with brain damage from a condition I have called hydrocephalus.

Not to say that your teenager has neurological damage. But it is common that when we experience trauma, our brain has a tendency to shut things out and conveniently forget. It's a survival strategy, and certainly plays a role in our fight or flight responses to events, but the only effective way to truly overcome and recover from trauma is to first remember said trauma - recognize it for what it is, then start the process for healing.

Music therapy may help considerably in this effort.

All in all: music therapy is a powerful tool

The benefits of music therapy, and songwriting in particular, are huge. Elevating self esteem, increasing memory, improving communication skills and social skills, its ability to help us reduce stress, overcome experienced trauma, and work through anxiety and depression is powerful.

If you're interested in learning more about how or why songwriting and music therapy might be the fix you've been looking for for your young adult, book a call with me here, and we can discuss what therapy and music - especially using the Youth Empowerment through Songwriting approach that I use with my clients might look like.
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